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ZEP Expiry Affecting Children’s Mental Health

The expiry of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) on 30 June 2023 will result in tens of thousands of Zimbabweans being forced to return home from South Africa.

This will force thousands of Zimbabwean schoolchildren to leave South Africa and enrol at local schools.

Last month, a full bench in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria reserved its judgement in the case brought by the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders (ZEPHA) and other civil society organizations against the South African Government.

ZEPHA is seeking permanent residence in South Africa for ZEP holders.

But less than two months before the expiry of ZEP, the 178 000 beneficiaries and their children face an uncertain future.

While the program aimed to alleviate some of the challenges faced by Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa, it has also had unintended consequences on the mental health and emotional well-being of Zimbabwean parents and children who are under the ZEP program.  

In Zimbabwe, the Second Term commenced this Monday, 08 May, and the children of ZEP holders, who are likely set to return home mid-term, may find it difficult to adapt to the local education system.

No one knows whether the Gauteng High Court will nullify the discontinuation of ZEP by South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs or validate the decision which heightens the sense of uncertainty for ZEP holders.

For many Zimbabwean parents, the ZEP program has meant living in a state of constant uncertainty about their future in South Africa.  

While the program has allowed them to remain in the country, the threat of deportation still looms large, and many fear that they may be forced to leave their homes and livelihoods behind at any moment.  

This fear is not unfounded, as South Africa has a history of sudden and often violent deportations of undocumented migrants.

This constant fear and uncertainty take a significant toll on the mental health of Zimbabwean parents, who are already facing numerous challenges in their day-to-day lives.  

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Many struggle to find stable employment and adequate housing, and some must deal with discrimination and xenophobia. The added stress of the ZEP program exacerbates these challenges, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Children of Zimbabwean parents under the ZEP program are also deeply affected by the emotional stress of their parents.  

Many children have grown up in South Africa and know no other home, yet they too live in constant fear of deportation. This fear can lead to behavioural problems, poor academic performance, and other mental health issues.

The ZEP program has been a lifeline for many Zimbabweans who have sought refuge in South Africa. It has allowed them to work and support their families, and also given their children the opportunity to receive a quality education. However, with the expiry date of the program looming, parents are worried about their children’s future.

One of the major concerns for parents is whether their children will be able to continue their studies in South Africa. Many Zimbabwean children have grown up in South Africa and consider it their home. 

Going back to Zimbabwe, a country they have never lived in would be a daunting and unsettling experience for them. As a result, parents are desperate for information on the future of the ZEP program and their children’s education.

According to Tawanda, a Zimbabwean parent living in Johannesburg, “The uncertainty surrounding the ZEP program is causing a lot of anxiety for us as parents. We don’t know what the future holds for our children’s education. They have grown up here and this is their home. We are worried about their future if they are forced to return to Zimbabwe.”

Another parent, Precious, echoes Tawanda’s sentiments. “We are in a difficult position. We want our children to have a good education, but we don’t know if they will be able to continue studying in South Africa. It’s a stressful time for us as parents.”

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The uncertainty surrounding the ZEP program is not only affecting parents but also their children. Many children are struggling to focus on their studies as they worry about their future. 

They are unsure whether they will be able to continue their education in South Africa or have to return to Zimbabwe, a country they may not have ever lived in.

As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the ZEP program, many Zimbabwean parents are hesitant to make plans for their children’s future. They do not know whether they will be able to afford to send their children to school or whether they will be able to stay in South Africa.

This puts immense pressure on families and their financial stability.

The psychological impact of the ZEP program is exacerbated by the fact that Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa often face discrimination and xenophobia. 

The program has created a sense of otherness among Zimbabweans, who feel unwelcome and marginalized in South African society. This sense of otherness can lead to feelings of isolation and despair, further exacerbating mental health issues.

“As a parent, it’s heartbreaking to see my child struggle with the uncertainty of the ZEP program. It’s affecting not just their schooling but also their mental and emotional well-being,” said one parent, Onai Tsvakayi, who is based in Cape Town.  

Psychologist Sharon Sawana told this publication that: “To address these issues, it is essential to provide Zimbabwean nationals under the ZEP program with adequate support and resources. 

“This includes access to mental health services, legal assistance, and community support networks. It is also crucial to address the root causes of Zimbabweans’ migration to South Africa, including political instability, economic hardship, and human rights abuses.”

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Multi-award winning journalist/photojournalist with keen interests in politics, youth, child rights, women and development issues. Follow Lovejoy On Twitter @L_JayMut

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